5 Ways Tech Is Ruining Our Kids' Social Skills

by Jill Ginsberg
Originally Published: 
A kid holding a phone in his hands above his lap while  playing games on it

As much as technology allows for flexible learning, tip-of-the-finger entertainment and the ability to connect with people anywhere, at any time, it’s also the reason the latest generation of kids has the social skills of Kanye West at an awards ceremony.

That’s because they now rely on online interactions as stand-ins for the more nuanced in-person interactions we’re accustomed to, and it’s making them regress. Here are some examples:

1. Playdates

Back Then: Kids had playdates with their friends and, get this, actually played together.

Now: Kids have playdates with their friends, and instead of playing together they play Minecraft next to one another. It’s called “parallel play” and it’s what 2-year-olds do. Like toddlers, there’s minimal interaction although they are aware of each other’s presence. Unfortunately this type of engagement doesn’t exactly lead to meaningful friendships, let alone eye contact.

Tip: Hold tech-free playdates where kids can enjoy interacting with their friends the good old-fashioned way, through imaginary play and outdoor activities.

2. Laughter

Back Then: If something was funny, kids expressed their amusement by laughing out loud.

Now: Kids say “LOL” and maybe smile slightly, but it comes off as being more droid-like and creepy. It’s bad enough that our kids learn to text in a secret code of acronyms that even Millennials don’t stand a chance of being able to decipher. But when they start thinking there’s a shortcut for laughter, it’s time to draw the line.

Tip: Let your child know how much you appreciate hearing the sound of his laughter. Then grab your favorite joke book and turn it into a fun game by seeing how long it takes him to bust a gut.

3. Fun

Back Then: Kids used to go about the business of enjoying themselves for the sake of enjoying themselves. Occasionally their parents would take a picture for posterity’s sake or they’d snap a Polaroid—yesteryear’s version of the selfie—and be rewarded with a close-up shot of their left nostril.

Now: Hardly anything is done just for the fun of it. Instead it’s often about how it will be received by others. With camera phones ever at the ready, there’s no need to discuss the amazing sunset they just saw on the way home from the beach. Kids simply need to point, click, filter, upload to Instagram and then sit back and wait for the virtual high fives to roll in.

Tip: Model the behavior you want to see in your kids. When spending quality time together, try to tune in to the present and save the photo ops for capturing those truly special moments.

4. Friendship

Back Then: Kids hung out with other kids who lived in their neighborhood or went to their school. If one of their buddies moved away, they could keep in touch by writing letters or speaking in full sentences on the telephone.

Now: Kids are “friends” with virtually everyone they’ve ever met. Yet they don’t really know one another, unless, of course, they do some heavy social media stalking. If they’re good friends in real life, they can elevate the relationship to texting status, where they’ll proceed to communicate with one another in a series of vowelless short codes that make state-mandated Hooked on Phonics seem like a really smart idea.

Tip: Make sure they understand the difference between acquaintances and close friends, and teach them the importance of cultivating meaningful relationships with their inner circle.

5. Interpersonal Skills

Back Then: Kids could see what a person’s face looked like when their feelings had been hurt, and that helped them to understand the impact of their words and learn how to deal with personal conflict.

Now: Kids often don’t know how to express their feelings beyond one to two word descriptions. Why waste time talking or typing when hashtags and emojis say it all? Phones and computers, while great for chitchat, don’t help foster the skills needed to develop deeper relationships and resolve conflict. Even FaceTime is not the same as face-to-face time.

Tip: Moderation is the key. Allow your kids to chat online for a limited amount of time each day, but also encourage them to get together in person with their friends.

Our kids are capable of amazing things, and technology has the potential to take them to greater heights than we’ve ever known.

But first they need to learn how to have a convo and stop hiding behind a screen. IMHO. Or they’re going to be SOL. No J/K.

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